Eleven people died after a militia group allegedly allied to the northern Sudanese government attacked a southern town, an official said Saturday, as violence in the contested areas between north and South Sudan continued to escalate ahead of the South's independence next month.
A Southern Sudanese County Commissioner Domenic Deng said that eight members of the militia and three Southern Sudanese soldiers died in a morning attack on Turalei.
Turalei hosts tens of thousands of people who had been displaced from their homes in the contested north and south region of Abyei following an invasion by Sudan's army.
Last month Deng said that up to 40,000 people had arrived in Turalei, a town just south of Abyei. He said at least 80,000 people have fled Abyei, a zone about the size of Connecticut which northern Sudan invaded late May.
Col. Philip Aguer, a military spokesman for the southern army, said the attacks are part of a plan by the north to take over oil rich areas in the south before it gains independence next month.
"They want to create a de facto border by force between the north and south because the border has not been physically demarcated," Aguer said.
Saturday's attack was allegedly carried out by rebels allied to Gen. Peter Gadet, who defected from the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army, Deng said. He claimed Gadet is on the payroll of the Khartoum government.
"The attack was actually targeting Turalei here. And their intention is to overrun Turalei," and capture it to make it a base, he said.
"All of the offensives are actually targeting the coming separation on the 9th of July," Deng said.
North and south Sudan ended more than two decades of civil war, in which more than 2 million people died, in 2005 with a peace deal that promised both Abyei and the south a self-determination vote.
The south voted overwhelmingly in January to secede and becomes an independent nation July 9. Abyei's vote never happened, so its future was being negotiated by the north and south.
Earlier this month violence erupted in South Kordofan state when Sudan's military attacked a black community aligned with Sudan's south. A U.N. report said dozens of Nuba people were killed, but officials have not been able to confirm an exact toll amid rumors that the military has been rounding up the Nuba people for mass executions.